Marketing Idea No. 298: The Leadership Bullshit

The biggest flaw about the importance of leadership in any organization argument is that, as incentive driven, ambitious, self centered human beings; why would any of us let go of our chance of being the center of attention, follow someone else as leader and in the way subtly accept that our leader is somehow superior than us? Wouldn’t that be counter to our own self interest?

As human being one of our core survival instincts is to look for the best possible solution for us. But something that is even more core to our soul than our need to shine is our desire to find something or someone to believe in. We simply cannot endure long periods of doubt or emptiness that comes from a lack of something to believe in. We are not built for it. That’s why when a larger-than-life figure comes and dangles something in front of us to believe in – a religion, quick rich scheme, battle cry, organizational vision – we leap from the water for this bait and hang on to it for dear life. That’s why we look at leaders like messiahs who will guide us to Promised Land. That’s the core need that cult leaders, politicians, CEOs and charlatans exploit for their own cause, either to swindle money, or to lead hundreds of people to commit mass suicide or to sell a war on terror to hide the need to hunt for fossil fuel or mesmerize a group of Stanford graduates through a commencement speech to find their passion by dropping out of college if necessary.

Organization life is a “Game of Thrones”, and great leaders play it like they are the stars on a theater. It’s a game where perception is everything and words mean more than action. In short, its bullshit that matters. Here are a short list of gimmicks that organizational leaders undertake to imprint their own brand of bullshit in organizations. If you find a hint of similarity with some of the most revered organizational leaders of our time, that is purely intentional.

  1. You are not a leader if you don’t have followers. And to court followers, you have to draw attention to yourself. The best way to start is by making a vague, passionate promise and repeat that over and over again. The key part of this promise has to be inspiring, simple but vague. It must sound like a transformative dream, but simple enough for common people to get it but never make it concrete how you are going to do it, which will keep the allure going.
  2. Once you establish your credibility among your followers, you need to keep them engaged through visual/auditory gimmicks, not intellectual solutions. That way you keep people entertained as well as court your skeptics. The best leaders act like they are on theaters. They dazzle with jargons, bold statements, and spectacle like presentations. All this to hold attention and detract from the substance.
  3. You need to create rituals for your followers. Because rituals comfort people that everything is status quo and normal, as people hate change and uncertainty. That’s where the annual conventions, Monday meetings, lunch with boss and team buildings come in.
  4. Finally, invent a common enemy to establish “us” vs “them” dynamic. It creates the perception among followers that they are doing something important, they share a common bond, they rally behind a common cause or enemy and in the process they feel like brothers/sisters/comrades who are in it together.
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